Welcome to Anti-Semantism, a section of Angry Autie that tackles language use, especially as it pertains to autism and discussing it. Words are very profound and powerful things. People know this in the abstract but yet continue using words imprecisely. It may seem like what I’m doing here is just nit-picking to most people but I find the way that people use words to be extremely revealing, more revealing than they may want. It is possible to call people out on bullshit based on their word-choice. I believe that a lot of problems arise from a misunderstanding in communication, which people with autism supposedly lack. In Anti-Semantism, there’ll be diatribes against certain terms, an analysis of how certain terms are used, and more. Any topic that is about language use in autism discourse will fall under the “Anti-Semantism” label.
Lately, I’ve stumbled upon the concept of ’English-Prime’ (henceforth, ’E-Prime’) and I’ve obsessed over it ever since. E-Prime proposes to eliminate the verb ’to be’ from our lexicon. E-Prime aims to eliminate dogma from our way of thinking about and discussing anything and puts us in a linguistic box that forces us to think and discuss more critically. The verb ’to be’ serves as a (lazy) tool of equivalency and an enhancer/definer of categories and because of the fast-paced and uncertain nature of speech, these equivalencies and categories often go unchecked and one may tacitly accept them, especially if the speaker has mastered the art of speech and sophistry. As a result, false ideas may circulate. Someone emphatically says “Rush Limbaugh is a genius” and, next thing you know, more and more people think that. As you sit on the idea of E-Prime, even if you don’t intend to use it, you become more aware of the power and the slippery and deceptive nature of ’to be.’
All of this made me think of the way that I discuss and think about autism. I think of it as something ’I am,’ rather than something ’I have,’ and so do most other autism bloggers (re: person-first language discussion). My consideration of E-Prime has revealed to me the hazy yet dogmatic nature of this position, especially considering that autism, other than a few key characteristics like proneness to sensory overload or meticulousness, evades precise definition. And my position becomes more absurd when you take into consideration the fact that ‘being’ and ‘essence’ also evade precise definition. The verb exacerbates ambiguity, rather than combating it. When I say ‘I am autistic,’ what do I aim to affirm and why does it need affirming?
Eliminating ’to be’ would eliminate identity to a certain extent. Identity constantly changes but static aspects of identity like ethnicity can still remain. For me to say “I am American” leaves out a lot of information about me. A more accurate statement would be “I grew up in New York City with an American father and an Egyptian mother who currently resides in the UK.” I managed to say a lot without using ’to be’ and I avoid pigeonholing myself as simply an American. More complex facts about me, those more difficult to express in E-Prime, would reveal themselves overtime and express themselves with more nuance. Thus, E-Prime reveals the multi-faceted and fluid nature of the state of affairs and eliminates clearly defined categories.
Now this makes me consider whether or not I need identity for the sake of inner peace, the reason why I’ve been writing this blog. I often feel that whenever I express my ’autism identity,’ I unintentionally define myself in opposition to neurotypical people, portraying the situation as black-and-white. I present myself too much as ’not one of you’ and I close off all future discussion. With E-Prime, definite categories would not exist and I would not think of terms of opposition to neurotypical people; I wouldn’t even view them as ‘neurotypical people’ or myself as ‘autistic.’
E-Prime encourages an open discussion on several matters because it forces one to deconstruct categories that they may or may not know well and recognize their essentially fluid and occasionally self-contradictory nature. Most people, at least from my experiences, cannot handle it when their ideas and mental categories become completely deconstructed because the sheer complexity becomes obvious and overwhelms the person. Read any Socratic dialogue and notice that Socrates takes the tightly held ideas and beliefs of his interlocutors and deconstructs them to the point where the interlocutor no longer recognizes it and plainly notices the issues and implications of their beliefs. A resolution never presents itself because a resolution does not exist.
I argue that autistic people can handle this deconstruction better than neurotypicals because autistics tend to think on a more atomic level, noticing the small details that neurotypical people would never notice before noticing the big picture. Because of their our ability to think outside categories (or unwillingness to think in categories), autistics are inherently superior to neurotypicals and why we are slowly taking over…*
*How about that! The one time that I use the verb ‘to be’ in this essay and it asserts a dogma! See how dangerous that is?**
**Oops. Did it again. This is getting tiresome…***
***Oh, fuck you, E-Prime, you beautiful whore.